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Jebel Toubkal, at 4,167 m (13,334 ft) the highest mountain in North Africa, draws those interested in ski-tours in winter and alpine hikers in summer. Approaching it from Marrakech on the S 501, turn to the left past Asni and follow the P 6038, an adventurous, landslide-afflicted trail, along the picturesque river oases of Mizane, to Imlil (1,800 m/5,760 ft). The rickety omnibus taxis from Asni also run here. This mountain village, has a lot of what the trekker’s heart desires, for example a simple sidewalk cafe with unassuming little rooms to let, a CAF (Club Alpin Franqais) but and a private camping field (left at the village entrance). Small shops sell such staples as bread, cheese, vegetables, oil, meat and camp-stove gas, and with luck a 1:50,000 hikers’ map.
The parking area is guarded. State-examined mountain guides – among them one named Lahcen, a good-natured linguistic whiz – can be hired at negotiable daily rates. If desired they can organize the entire trek. On the other hand, the drivers of the pack-mules work for fixed, though not unreasonable tariffs. Now and then one may also ride the astoundingly sure-footed mules to shorten the walking time. It’s no problem for the drivers, who enjoy the enviable physical condition of marathon runners!
It’s a good idea to bring along a tent, since rental tents are of limited availability and lodging can’t always be found in the villages.
A hike around Jebel Toubkal with an ascent to the summit can be done in five to six days. On the other hand, Toubkal stormers in a big hurry take a six-hour ride up to the Neltner refuge, spend the night there, knock off the summit in four hours, ride back to Imlil and drive back to Marrakech the same night to nurse their chafed behinds in the hotel. However, the best part of this trek – experiencing the Berber culture in the high-altitude river oases behind the main range of the High Atlas – requires more time.
Starting from Imlil, follow the trail (now no longer drivable), which, after passing through a series of steep hairpin bends, heads south high above the left bank of the Mizane River. After about half an hour the village of Aroumd appears on the other bank. It’s built in a manner typical for the Shluh Berbers of the region. Nestling on an outcrop at an altitude of some 1,900 m (6,080 ft), the rough-stone buildings, built terrace-style into the slope, are equipped with southfacing balconies on which women can be seen knotting their carpets. Further up the valley the route crosses the Mizane and after a good four hours arrives at the koubba of Sidi Chamharouch (2,300 m/7,360 ft). The baraka (blessing) of the holy man can drive away gnurcs (evil spirits) and cure infertility. Small shops sell soft drinks and cookies. A small resting place on the streambed can hold four tents if need be, although for the sake of altitude acclimatization it’s a better idea to climb up to the Nelter refuge situated at 3,200 m ( 10,240 ft, following the Mikane; another four hours). The but has cooking facilities and 30 beds, which are usually filled up in July and August. The manager sells beverages, but no food. Snow can be expected until the end of April, sometimes until May.
Break out for Jebel Toubkal before 7 a,m, to make use of the cool of morning, climbing a good three hours over piles of boulders and scree to the summit ridge. The highest point (4,167 m/13,334 ft) is marked by a three-legged trigonometric symbol – no cross in the land of Muslims! – put up in 1931 by the Moroccan section of the Club Alpin Franqais. On a clear day the Anti-Atlas can be discerned to the south. From this altitude, its 2,000-m (6,400 ft) peaks appear rather flat. Behind them are the strata of the Sahara’s northern edge; in the east, at about 50 km (30 mi) distance, is the crater edge of the extended volcanic Siroua Massif (3,304 m/10,572 ft). In the foreground to the northeast is Tichki (3,627 m/11,606 ft); behind it, Angour (3,616 m/11,571 ft); to the north, Adrar n’ Oukaimeden (3,273 m/10,473 ft) and only three km further west, Jebel Ouanoukrim (4,088 m/13,081 ft).
Back at the Neltner refuge one can either indulge in a lazy afternoon and spend the night, or continue with the hiking tour, just short of two hours up the valley to the Tizi n’Ouanoums, a pass that crosses the main ridge of the High Atlas at an altitude of 3,664 m (11,724 ft). On the way, there are visible traces of the last Ice Age, which ended 10,000 years ago: The terminal moraine climbed at the beginning consist of rock debris bulldozed by a glacier. Snowfields often last here until June. The three-hour descent to the deep-blue moraine lake Lac d’Ifni (2,312 m/7,398ft) is rough, but the pleasure of swimming in its cool waters is worth the trouble. There are camping sites on the west and northeast lakeshores.
Passing by the lake to the north and decending the slope of the terminal moraine, after approximately 1.5 hours you come to the valley of the Tifnoute, the headstream of the Sons River. The village of Imhilene (2,000 m/6,200 ft) provides the opportunity of spending the night in a Berber home. This romantic river oasis has an abundance of walnut tree between which barley, maize, and also vegetables flourish. A half hour further downstream lies Amsouzerte (1,800 m/5,760 ft): some intrepid truck drivers coming in from Aoulouz (to the south) occasionally negociate the rutted trail CT 6855 this far.
The stage which follows, over the Terhaline Pass to Sidi Chamharouch, requires 12 hours’ hiking time and doesn’t have to be knocked off in one day. Hiking northward along the idyllic Tisgui Valley on a comfortable track, you pass by the villages of Timakine, Tagdirt and Missour, which are located on the opposite slope. During centuries of toil, the Shluh Berbers laid out terraced fields on the mountain, irrigated by seguias (open canals). Since the tillable area cannot be expanded, many of the villagers have gone to France as foreign laborers. At the end of the valley in Tissaldai (2,100 m/6,720 ft), lodging is’available from the hospitable village residents.
The steep ascent to Tizi n’Terhaline (3,427 m/10,966 ft) becomes mercilessly hot toward noon, so it’s a good idea to set out early in the morning after a good night’s sleep in Tissaldai. Having reached the head of the pass, there is the option of expanding the six-day tour by choosing the 2.5-days trek back to Imlil, the starting point via Azib Tifni, Azib Likemt, Tizi Likemt pass, the village of Tacheddirt and the Tizi n’Tamatert pass.
Now, the route, ascending to the northwest, crosses the saddle of the Tarharat massif (roughly 3,700 m/11,800 ft) and arrives, on the north face of Tichki, at the pass Tizi n’Tarharate (3,450 m/11,040 ft). On the descent – 2.5 hours through rubble and scree (beware of loose stones!) – you can look forward to the foot-bath in Sidi Chamharouch. Arriving back Imlil after another three hours in the mountains, the sleepy village seems more like a hectic outpost of civilization